From 'The Graduate' to 'Legally Blonde': 10 Films About Graduation

8:00 AM 5/1/2017

by Lexy Perez

As commencement season begins, graduates can find solace in films depicting what's ahead for life after school.

The Graduate and Legally Blonde Still - Split - Photofest - H 2017

As many graduates are preparing to say goodbye to their school years and embark on their next chapters, various emotions and situations can occur. While graduating is a prominent milestone in any student’s life, the time period calls for big changes and a moment of self-discovery.

The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at 10 of the films — from The Graduate to Legally Blonde — that are set around graduation and may assure graduates that as they begin a new life, the transitional process and struggles they face are universal among many students. 

  • 'The Devil Wears Prada'

    A common job for recent college graduates is working as an intern or assistant. Regardless of what kind of entry-level occupation one holds, many require a lot of hard work with little benefits. In this 2005 film, Andie (Anne Hathaway) is a struggling writer aiming to make it big in the publication world. Her perseverance, despite her circumstances, can resonate with many graduates. While not every boss may be the epitome of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Presley, a lot of the tedious work Andie endures (e.g., coffee runs, phone calls, scheduling, etc.) exemplifies the struggles that recent grads must face when trying to get their foot in the door in many occupations. The film received high praise from critics and earned Streep her 14th Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy or musical. 

  • 'The Social Network'

    The film details Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s jumpstart of the famous social networking site. Although Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is a student attempting to build a future from an idea, he still endures college drama and situations with his elite classmates, played by Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer. Although nothing is  guaranteed, his motivation to build his own empire is something students need when trying to establish themselves in their industries of interest. The 2010 film was a box-office success and received high praises from critics. The David Fincher-directed film earned eight Academy Award nominations and won three, for best adapted screenplay, best original score and best film editing. It also won four Golden Globes, including best motion picture. 

  • 'The Graduate'

    The 1967 film is centered on graduate Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) returning home from college. Hoping to avoid everyone asking what he wants to do with his life, Braddock is given an unexpected diversion as he falls into an affair with his neighbor. While dramatized, the underlying sense of confusion and lack of purpose Braddock struggles with is something every graduate might endure after school ends. The classic film earned six Academy Award nominations, including best picture and a best actor nod for Hoffman. Mike Nichols won for best director.   

  • 'Post Grad'

    Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel) is a recent college graduate whose plan to land her dream job fails to fall through. Forced to return home and live with her family, Malby decides to re-evaluate everything and establish a new plan for her future, only to find it more difficult than she thought. While most college grads have hopes of achieving their dream job immediately after school, it can be a frustrating time period, leaving graduates to feel lost and confused on what they want. Bledel’s role as a graduate realizing that her life plan isn’t a guarantee is easy for graduates to identify with. 

  • 'Pitch Perfect 2'

    Although a comedy about a college a capella group, the underlying premise of the film tackles many subjects that millennials are used to. Becca (Anna Kendrick) begins a new internship and actively works on establishing a career after college. Other group members, such as Chloe (Brittany Snow), struggle with determining their identity separate from the comfort zone that was their a capella group. As the girls say goodbye to their final days at school and to each other, the film explores the fearfulness that students can face when they embark on new chapters in their lives. The first film debuted in 2012 and starred Kendrick, Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Ben Platt, Rebel Wilson and Elizabeth Banks. In 2015, the second installment was directed by Banks. Pitch Perfect 3 is set to be released Dec. 22. 



  • 'Kicking and Screaming'

    This 1995 film about a group of graduates struggling to readjust to life after college embodied everything students endure prior to and after saying goodbye to their school years. The nostalgic film tackles every emotion and situation that students can face, such as feeling lost, confused and purposeless and enduring self-loathing over not transitioning into the life they sought to have. The Noah Baumbach-directed film starred Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott and more. It received critical acclaim, with Baumbach chosen as one of Newsweek's "Ten New Faces of 1996.” 

  • 'Into the Wild'

    Based on the best-selling novel by Jon Krakauer, the film stars Emile Hirsch as Christopher McCandless, who travels across North America and spends time in the Alaskan wilderness. Despite graduating with honors from Emory University, McCandless refuses to live a conventional life and sets out on a spontaneous journey in order to find himself. McCandless’s pursuit of self-discovery is a common desire for graduates attempting to determine who they are and want to be in the coming future. The 2007 film was directed by Academy Award nominee Sean Penn and earned two Golden Globes nominations and Oscar nominations for best editing and best supporting actor. 

  • 'Legally Blonde'

    Quirky, fun and full of wit, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) tackles Harvard University, but not without some confusion along the way. Her comical journey — from establishing herself among the elite students and graduating to getting the law degree she set out to earn — represents students seeking to reach their full potential post-college. The film’s motivational theme can apply to graduating students aiming to follow their dreams and avoid limiting themselves to what they can achieve. The first film was released in 2001 and received positive reviews from critics. The comedy was nominated for a Golden Globe for best motion picture, musical or comedy, as well as a best actress nomination for Witherspoon. The successful film led to a 2003 sequel, Legally Blonde: Red, White and Blonde

  • ' St. Elmo’s Fire'

    The 1985 classic focuses on recent graduates Kirby (Emilion Estevez), who works as a waiter with hopes of becoming a successful lawyer; a dreaming writer (Demi Moore); Wendy, a love-struck girl (Mare Winnigham) infatuated with a complicated (and married) man (Rob Lowe); and Alec (Judd Nelson), who has political aspirations that may interfere with his girlfriend (Ally Sheedy). Together, the recent college graduates learn to grapple with adulthood and the real world through their spontaneous adventures. The coming-of-age film was directed by Joel Schumacher.

  • 'Mona Lisa Smile'

    Although not necessarily revolved around students graduating, the 2003 film directed by Mike Newell has all the elements to make for an inspirational story that can resonate with graduates. Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) becomes the new art history teacher at an all-female liberal arts school known as Wellesley College. Watson is a recent UCLA graduate and uses her fresh perspective to employ an unconventional method to teaching her students. Rather than abide by the norms they’re expected to follow, Watson encourages her female students to challenge the expectations traditionally held on them, such as marrying eligible men and motivating them to refrain from living in fear of being different from what is expected of them. This film can encourage graduates to take risks and believe in their own hard work. The film also stars Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Oscar-nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal.